undervalued foreign aid
If there is one certainty about the process of lawmaking, it is that enacting a bill into law requires persistence. Thousands of bills never pass the House of Representatives, much less receive the Senate or Presidential approval. This is especially true when it comes to the way Congress undervalues foreign aid. allows anyone to view who cosponsors pending bills and track the bill’s progress through Congress. Even more telling, however, is the website’s indication of the probability that any given bill will be enacted into law.

Nonprofit organizations like The Borgen Project mobilize thousands of Americans to contact their elected officials in support of foreign aid and international relief. Nevertheless, bills regarding foreign assistance commonly have prognoses under 5%. Compared to the prognoses for bills regarding homeland security and domestic business protections, these numbers highlight the lack of urgency for foreign aid at the federal level. In the fiscal year for 2019, foreign assistance comprised less than 1% of the federal budget. Given the growing severity of humanitarian crises amidst the pandemic, why does Congress continue to undervalue foreign aid?

A Bipartisan Call For Support

A common misconception exists that Republicans are the main cause of undervalued foreign aid. Democrat-identifying voters at large typically prioritize foreign aid more than Republicans. However, Congress members in both political parties lend their support and cosponsorship to undervalued foreign aid bills. Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have installed effective foreign aid initiatives. Recently, Congress members from both parties rejected President Trump’s proposal to cut to the International Affairs Budget by one-third.

While bipartisan protection of the existing aid budget is optimistic, senators and representatives are slow to demonstrate support for pending legislation. For example, the Global Fragility Act has gained a modest 20 cosponsors since its introduction in April 2019. Its prognosis, like many similar acts, stands at 3%. In contrast, an act entitled H.R. 1252: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6531 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, California, as the “Marilyn Monroe Post Office” garnered 50 cosponsors and received enactment within a year.  When new bills and initiatives lack attention and cosponsorship, it is difficult for foreign aid to create widespread benefits. This is especially true in an unprecedented time of crisis. Oftentimes, seemingly non-urgent and low-impact acts gain more congressional momentum than urgent and potentially life-changing foreign assistance. This observation indicates a disparity in support of domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Benefits As An Obstacle

Generally, undervalued foreign aid lacks impetus because of the framework that Congress created around foreign aid as early as World War II. From World War II to the Cold War era, support for foreign aid depended on how much that bill could bring domestic benefits back to the United States. This precedent informs how Congress evaluates foreign aid to this day. Senators and representatives often select foreign aid based on the likelihood of it bringing economic benefits to their particular geographic region.

While it is natural for elected officials to consider the American economy, an empirical question exists as to whether foreign aid realistically compromises American interests. In short, it does not. Foreign aid, specifically when USAID drives it, brings billions of dollars to the American economy each year. This has been the case since the late 20th century.

Combating Domestic Fear

Another notable reason for why Congress undervalues foreign aid is the fear of benefiting autocratic governments. This contributed to the lack of foreign aid during the Cold War, and this fear surged once again in the early 21st century in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foreign aid bills that grant basic resources to civilians rather than governments lack support from Congress based on these anxieties. However, to generalize about developing countries based on preconceived fears or stereotypes only blocks progress, both domestically and abroad. Congress is more than capable of making informed decisions about foreign aid without compromising the security of their constituents, who call in support of pending aid legislation more often with each international crisis and tragedy.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

Millenium Compacts for Regional Economic Integration Act

Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Senator Flake (R-AZ), and members of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Coons (D-Del) and Senator Isakson (R-GA), have introduced the Millennium Compacts for Regional Economic Integration Act.

This piece of legislation could potentially allow the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to partner with countries in order to address regional development challenges and encourage trans-border economic growth in the developing world, especially in Africa. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency established by Congress in 2004. This agency aims to combat global poverty through economic growth. The MCC partners with developing countries committed to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens.

Countries have reformed in order to partner with the MCC. For example, Ghana changed its power grid in order to partner with the MCC. In addition, Lesotho allowed women to open bank accounts in order to receive MCC assistance. Given this, it is assumed that countries could improve conditions in their country in order to develop regional economic partnerships. This would yield two benefits simultaneously.

In a world of globalization, many economies are interconnected. Global economies have experienced significant and sustained growth partly because of regional infrastructure and integrated trade agreements. Through greater regional economic collaboration, countries can improve infrastructure deficiencies, unemployment and poverty reduction efforts.

The MCC’s work could be enhanced if it had the authority to encourage regional economic growth. In Central America, road infrastructure could be significantly improved if the roads connected across borders. In Africa, countries could create regional power agreements and connect countries through transportation infrastructure.

Knowing this, the Millennium Challenge Corporation could foster regional economic growth between developing countries. Today, it is important to consider globalization when assisting developing countries. Globalization could help developing countries grow faster than ever.

In conclusion, this bipartisan piece of legislation aims to improve economic interconnectedness between neighboring developing countries. The MCC could foster these relationships between countries. Globalization could exponentially help developing countries grow, given that it increases trade, infrastructure access and energy access.

Ella Cady

Sources: Senate, Open Congress, The Constituent
Photo: MCC

The recent increase in violence in Iraq has many worried about a new uptick in refugee and asylum cases as fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people in the last couple of weeks. Compounding on the already critical Syrian crisis, the uptick in internally displaced persons in Iraq is worrisome for countries around the world.

Encouragingly, Congress recently released their foreign aid budget with more money allocated toward refugee accounts than the initial White House request. The House budget, which provides over $3 billion for refugee accounts, is more than the President’s request of $2 billion.

The Congressional foreign aid for refugees, which stands at $48.3 billion in total, allows for more refugee aid as a result of the ongoing crisis in Syria and the recent surge in violence in Iraq.

To date, the U.S. has already begun to draw on the refugee account in order to deal with newly displaced Iraqis fleeing from areas contested by the Sunni group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) The U.S. refugee caseload is already substantial and receives the largest amount of requests for asylum in the world.

Refugees are people who have been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war or violence, and who generally have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular group. An internally displaced person differs from a refugee in that they have not crossed an international border and are not protected under international law or eligible to receive aid.

According to a 2012 U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) report, by the end of 2012 there were more than 45.2 million people in situations of displacement, more than the any time since 1994. Fifty-five percent of all refugees listed in the UNHCR report come from five war-afflicted countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

As the crises in Iraq becomes more critical, the surge in displaced Iraqis which strains already stretched resources both internationally and domestically will need to be addressed by the international community.

The Congressional foreign aid budget is a good first step in ensuring appropriate resources are allocated to deal with the refugees, as these crises not only threaten the stability of each country, but of the regions as well.

— Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Politico, UN Refugees, The GuardianUNHCR
Photo: Asia News